The actual number of people getting sick with the coronavirus is increasing. We know this because in addition to positive COVID-19 tests, the number of symptomatic people, hospitalizations and later, deaths, are following the same pattern. Thankfully, Doctors, clinics and hospitals have learnt to reduce the fatality rate amongst the COVID-19 patients but this is no reason for people to throw caution to the winds.
Human behaviour is the major factor. State and local administrations, as well as individual people, differ in their response to the pandemic. Some follow COVID-19 precautions, such as physical distancing, hand washing and mask wearing. Others are not as prescriptive in requiring these measures or in restricting certain high-risk activities.
In some states and communities, public places are closed or practicing limitations (such as how many people are allowed inside at one time); others are operating normally. Some government and community leaders have encouraged or even mandated mask wearing and physical distancing in public areas. Others have left it as a matter of personal choice. In areas where fewer people are wearing masks and more are gathering indoors to eat, drink, observe religious practices, celebrate and socialize, even with family, cases are on the rise.
As state governments began to reopen cinemas, bars, restaurants and stores during the last few months, people were understandably eager to be able to go out and resume some of their normal activities. Nevertheless, the number of people infected with the coronavirus was still high in many areas, and transmission of the virus was easily rekindled once people increased their activities and contact with each other. Unfortunately, the combination of reopening and lapses in the infection prevention efforts – social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing – has caused the number of coronavirus infections to rise again.
There is a lag between a change in policy, and the effects of this change showing up in the COVID-19 data. An increase in the number of COVID-19 cases or hospitalizations is seen as many as six to eight weeks after change in policy. When a person is exposed to the coronavirus, it can take up to two weeks before they become sick enough to go to the doctor, get tested and have their case counted in the data. It takes even more time for additional people to become ill after being exposed to that person, and so on.
Several cycles of infection must occur before a noticeable increase shows in the data that public health officials use to track the pandemic. Due to such delays, people become careless with their behaviour, and they start moving around more. If everyone continues to wear masks, wash their hands and practice social distancing, reopening will have a much lower impact on transmission of the virus than in communities where people do not continue these safety precautions on a widespread basis. Also, after many months of cancelled activities, economic challenges and stress, people are frustrated and tired of taking coronavirus precautions. All these are factors that are driving surges and spikes in COVID-19 cases.
About 70% of the population needs to be immune to this coronavirus before herd immunity can work. People might be immune from the coronavirus, at least for a while, if they have already had it, but we do not know for how long such immunity lasts. A widely available, safe and effective vaccine is still going to take months for everyone to get it.
There is an alarming spike in the number of cases and more COVID-19 surges are likely to occur. Letting the coronavirus circulate freely among the public would result in hundreds of thousands of cases and millions more people left with lasting lung, heart, and brain or kidney damage. We must all continue to practice COVID-19 precautions, such as physical distancing, hand washing and mask wearing. We must work with our government to ensure that everyone in our household is up to date on vaccines as soon as they are made available.
Let no one harbour the false attitude of denial that COVID-19 does not happen to them or that they are not the spreaders of the infection once they have survived COVID-19 or have been vaccinated for it.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has caused the COVID-19 disease but people are the cause of the pandemic.
First published 12 April 21
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